There’s art in them thar hills

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARABRADY

TROU­BLE­MAK­ERS:THE STORYOFLANDART Di­rected by James Crump. Fea­tur­ing Robert Smith­son, Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt. Club, IFI mem­bers, 71min Shots of Stone­henge suggest there is noth­ing new about what is al­ter­nately de­scribed as Land Art, Dirt Art or Earth Art. Artist Carl An­dre con­curs: “Earth­works are an older tra­di­tion than oil paint­ing, go­ing back 3,000 years”. There are hints too of the Dadaist Duchamp, whose plas­tic arts of­ten re­quired a bird’s eye view.

Yet James Crump’s com­pelling chron­i­cle be­gins, as did so many other move­ments, in the coun­ter­cul­tural cur­rents of anti-Viet­nam War sen­ti­ment. De­ter­mined to break away from galleries and the trap­pings of civil­i­sa­tion, a group of con­cep­tual artists left New York in the late 1960s and headed for the hills. And canyons. And deserts.

They would forge work that, as Land Art prac­ti­tioner Michael Heizer notes, was “not portable, not mal­leable, not worth any­thing; in fact it’s an obli­ga­tion”.

In this spirit, Heizer’s own Dou­ble Neg­a­tive cut a geo­met­ric in­ci­sion across a canyon, a trough that dis­placed some 240,000 tonnes of rock; Nancy Holt’s Sun Tun­nels placed four mas­sive con­crete tun­nels in the Great Basin Desert; her hus­band Robert Smith­son’s Spi­ral Jetty un­furled 500m of basalt and mud into a pleas­ing curlicue in the Great Salt Lake.

Rather ap­pro­pri­ately, James Crump’s lively doc­u­men­tary al­lows its ma­te­rial to ebb and flow. The film-maker’s care­ful cu­ra­tion and beau­ti­ful assem­bly of ar­chive footage, and on-cam­era tes­ti­mony si­mul­ta­ne­ously al­low for depth and brevity, as var­i­ous prac­ti­tion­ers touch on en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, no­madism and iso­la­tion. It helps that the con­trib­u­tors are pas­sion­ate and ar­tic­u­late, par­tic­u­larly the late Smith­son, who, it tran­spires, was a re­mark­able prose writer.

Many of the move­ment’s great­est works were cre­ated in far-flung, hard-to-find places. The in­con­ve­nience was de­lib­er­ate. The goal was some­thing akin to pil­grim­age and re­li­gious awe. The terra incog­nita be­neath the in­stal­la­tions en­sure much of what we see is a rev­e­la­tion. De­spite the short run­ning time, there’s much to see here.

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